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The feminine goddess par excellence in ancient Egypt, Hathor was a pre-Dynastic goddess who gained enormous popularity early on. Her name is translated as "the House of Horus", which may be a reference to her as the embodiment of the sky in her role of the Celestial Cow, being that which surrounds the decidedly sky-oriented hawk-deity, Horus, when he takes wing. If Horus was the god associated with the living king, Hathor was the god associated with the living queen.
In earlier periods she was most often depicted as a full cow with the sundisk between her horns or as a slender woman wearing the horns-and-a-sundisk headdress (which may or may not have a uraeus upon it). She was also shown as a hippopotamus, a falcon, a cobra, or a lioness, however these were not as frequent as the woman or the cow. While there are some depictions of Hathor as a woman with a cow's head, this is mainly found only in the later periods.

Hathor's symbology included such items as sistra (a type of rattle), the horns-and-sundisk headdress (in much later times incorporated into the attire of Isis), the menat (a type of ritual necklace that may have been used for percussive music), and mirrors. Many ancient mirrors and sistra decorated with smiling, often nude Hathors on them have been uncovered over the years, and Hathor's visage (with cow ears) commonly appeared at the top of stone columns in Egyptian temples, many of which can still be seen today. Her cult flourished in Ta-Netjer ("Land of God" -- modern day Dendera) in Upper Egypt and her priests included both men and women, many of whom were dancers, singers, or musicians as the arts fell under Hathor's domain. Priests of Hathor were also oracles and midwives, and people could go to some temples of Hathor to have their dreams interpreted by her priests. Hathor's protection was invoked over children and pregnant women.

Hathor, as the Eye of Ra, "becomes" Sakhmet in the story "The Destruction of Mankind". Engraved into one of the shrines of Tutankhamen's tomb, the story tells how Hathor, at the request of her father (Ra), turns into Sakhmet in order to punish humans for transgressing against him. When she nearly wipes out all of humanity, Ra tries to stop her and, failing in that, contrives to get her drunk, whereupon she immediately forgets what it was she was doing and goes back to being Hathor. Hathor also appears as a minor character in "The Contendings of Horus and Seth". Her father (Ra) falls into a black mood so Hathor sets forth to cheer him up. Removing her clothing, she dances around his throne until he smiles again.

An additional myth, sometimes called "The Distant Goddess", tells of how Hathor became angry with Ra and wandered away from Egypt. Great sadness falls over the land and Ra, lost without his Eye, decides to fetch her back. However, Hathor has now become a deadly wild cat who destroys all that approaches her, and so no man or god will volunteer to go get her. Thoth eventually agrees to lure her back and, dressed in disguise, manages to coax the angry goddess to return to Egypt by telling her stories. Back in her homeland, she bathes in the Nile and once again settles into her normally gentle demeanor, but not before the waters turn red from the effort of cooling her rage. In some versions of this story it is Tefnut, not Hathor, who wanders away from Egypt, and Shu, not Thoth, who brings her back.

Hathor is associated with numerous other Egyptian goddesses. Her connections with Bastet helped to "soften up" that deity's visage, and as discussed previously Hathor was the other side of the Sakhmet coin. Hathor also seems to have absorbed many of the properties of Bat (another pre-Dynastic cow goddess), who is depicted at the top of the famous Narmer palette overseeing the events detailed therein.

Hathor is also known as the "Lady to the Limit" ("limit" meaning the edges of the known universe) and the "Lady of the West"; her image is sometimes seen on funerary depiction as she stands behind Osiris, welcoming the dead to their new home. Other titles of Hathor include the "Divine (or Celestial) Cow", "Mistress of Heaven", and "Lady of Gold", the last two of which were sometimes attributed to the queens of ancient Egypt. Hathor was also known as the "Lady of Greenstone and Malachite" due to her being regarded as a goddess of the desert fringes where such mines existed.

The Greeks called Hathor by the name of their goddess, Aphrodite. In the very late stages of Egyptian religion (over two millennia after Hathor had first appeared) she became almost totally absorbed into Isis (who acquired, aside from Hathor's headdress, the sistrum as well), resulting in frequent mistaken identity between the two. There are, however, subtle differences. When Isis is shown with the horns she is also (usually) shown with either the vulture headdress (which was associated with Mut, a goddess of Thebes), winged, or wearing a multi-colored feathered dress. There are of course exceptions (such as in the tomb of Horemheb), in which case knowledge of hieroglyphs is necessary to discern which goddess is which.

At the temple of Nefertari at Abu Simbel, Nefertari is shown as Hathor in many places, and Ramses II (the husband of Nefertari) is shown in one sanctuary receiving milk from Hathor the cow. When a child was born in Egypt, seven Hathors (somewhat like European fairy godmothers) would appear to "speak with one mouth" and determine the child's fate. Hathor's own child was Ihy, who was worshipped in Dendera with her and Horus-Behdety. Like his mother, Ihy was a god of music and dancing, and was always depicted as a child bearing a sistrum


Hathor's Rage and the Destruction of Mankind

Now Re had grown old and frail; His bones were like silver, His skin like burnished gold, and His hair like lapis lazuli. When the people of Egypt saw His feeble condition, they murmmered against Him here were plots among mankind to seize the Throne of Re. The plotters met in secret on the edge of the desert, and thought themsleves safe. However, the Sun God knew of the traitors and listened to their plotting.

Re's anger blazed forth as never before. He commanded the attendants of His throne, "Summon My daughter, the Eye of Re; send for mighty Shu and Tefnuit; bring Their children Geb and Nuit; fetch the Dark Ogdoad, the eight who were with Me in the watery Abyss; raise Nun Himself! But let Them all come secretly. If the traitors learn that I hath summoned a counsil of Gods they will know they have been discovered and attempt to escape their punishment."

The King of the Gods spoke to Nun, "O oldest of living things and all ye primeval Gods, I wept and men sprang from My tears. I gave them life, but now they are tired of My rule and plot against Me. Tell me, what should I do to them? I will not destroy the children of My tears until I have heard your wise advise."

Watery Nun spoke first, "My son, Thou art older than Thy father, greater than the God who created You. May you rule forever! Both Gods and men fear the terrible power of the Eye of the Sun; send it against the rebels." Re looked out over Egypt and spake, "The plotters have already fled deep into the desert. They are afraid that I mightl learn of their plans and punish them. How shalt I persue them?"

The Gods cried out with one voice, "Send the Eye of Re to seize them! Send the Eye of the Sun to slaughter them! All of mankind is guilty, let the Eye go down as Hathor and destroy the children of Your tears. Let not one man remain alive."

Hathor, the Eye of the Sun, most beautiful and terrible of Goddesses, bowed before the throne and Re and nodded His head. Hathor went down into the desert, raging like a lioness. The plotters attempted to escape Her wrath, but to no avail. She siezed them and slaughtered them and drank their blood. Then merciless Hathor left the desert and raged through villages and towns, killing every man, woman, and child She could find. Re heard the prayers and screams of the dying and felt compassion for the children of His tears, but He remained silent.

When darkness fell, Hathor returned triumphantly to Her father. "Welcome in peace," declared Re. He tried to calm the fury of His daughter, but Hathor had tasted the blood of men and found it sweet. She was eager for the morning when She could return to Egypt and complete the slaughter of mankind to avenge their treachery. Soon, the power of Re would be unquestioned, but He would have no subjects to rule.

The Sun God wondered how He could save mankind, as He could not go back on His Divine Word. Soon, he created a plan to halt His terrible daughter. He ordered His followers to run, swifter than the shadows, to the city of Abu and bring back all the ochre they could find there. When they had returned with baskets full of red soil, He sent them out again to fetch the High Priest of Re, from Memphis, and all the slave girls who worked in his temple. Re ordered the High Priest to pound the ochre to make a red dye and set the slave girls to brewing beer. Just before dawn, the red dye was mixed with the beer until it looked like fresh blood. The King of the Gods smiled. "With this sleeping potion mankind will be rescued from My daughter," He said. "The people have suffered enough." Re had the jars carried to the place where Hathor would begin Her killing and ordered the beer to be poured out to flood the fields with crimson.

As soon as it was light, Hathor came down into Egypt to sniff out and slaughter the few who were left alive. The first thing She saw was a great pool of blood. The Goddess waded into it and was enchanted by Her own reflection in the crimson surface. She stooped to lap up the blood and drank the pool dry. The beer was strong, and the Goddess soon became very happy. Her head whirled and She could not remember why She had been sent into Egypt. Hathor made Her way back to the palace of Re and sank down at Her father's feet to sleep for many days.

"Welcome, gentle Hathor," spake Re. "Mankind shall remember their escape from Your fury by drinking strong beer at all Your festivals." Hathor was known from then on as The Lady of Drunkennes.

But Re was still angry and saddened over the rebellion of mankind. Nothing would be as it once was in the Golden Age before their treachery. When Hathor finally awoke, She felt as She had never felt before. Re asked Her, "Dost Thy head ache? Dost Thy cheeks burn? Dost Thou feel ill?" As He spoke, illness first came into being in Egypt.

Then Re summoned a second council of the Gods and spake, "My heart is too weary for Me to remain as King of Egypt. I am weak and old, let Me sink back into the Watery Abyss until it is time for Me to be born again."

Nun said quickly, "Shu, protect Your father! Nuit, carry Him upon Thy back." "How can I carry the mighty King of the Gods?" asked gentle Nuit, and Nun told Her to turn Herself into a cow. And so Nuit was turned into a vast cow with golden flanks and long curved horns. Re mounted the Divine Cow, and rode away from Egypt.